Skip to main content

Thank you, Miss America

By Roxanne Jones, Special to CNN
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 1546 GMT (2346 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Roxanne Jones: Indian-American Miss America a reminder of universality of American beauty
  • She says these days everyone knows it, even though haters and runway fashion culture lag
  • She says proud Indian-American Nina Davuluri could help draw attention to sex assault in India
  • Jones: Women, like Julie Chen, who changed eyes for TV, can embrace any beauty they want

Editor's note: Roxanne Jones is a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and a former vice president at ESPN. She is a national lecturer on sports, entertainment and women's topics and a recipient of the 2010 Woman of the Year award from Women in Sports and Events. She is the co-author of "Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete," (Random House) and CEO of Push Media Strategies.

(CNN) -- Dear Miss America,

Thank you for reminding us what classic American beauty looks like today. For the rest of America -- in case any of you have been sleeping for, say, the past two decades, or clinging to out-of-touch fashion magazines -- here's an alert: Beauty is Serena Williams and Michelle Obama. Beauty is Angelina Jolie and Marissa Mayer.

And yes, beauty is Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014.

Roxanne Jones
Roxanne Jones

Women's beauty cannot be debated or dictated by others. So in tribute to women across the globe, I celebrate your beautiful brown skin, your breathtaking Bollywood dance skills, and the hard work that I'm sure you put in, not only to earn top grades and graduate from the University of Michigan with a degree in brain behavior and cognitive science, but to become the first Indian-American woman to take home the tiara. I love it.

The beauty pageant circuit is a tough act, as I learned early from my fleeting experiences as a teen who participated in several pageants. Don't laugh, that college scholarship money is no joke. Back then, there were no other brown girls on the stage. No matter. My family and friends cheered me on and told me how beautiful I was -- and I had the audacity to believe them.

Sadly, it was the talent portion that always sunk me. Painting and poetry-writing just didn't cut it as a stage act. Lucky for me, I found journalism, but those pageants helped give me the confidence to believe that I could share the stage with anyone.

Miss America, I hope you use your crown and platform well and that you have the courage to amplify the voices of those women and girls back in your ancestral home, India, who are valiantly fighting for full equality and the right to live without fear of the brutal sexual violence that plagues that nation.

You are not the first woman of color to take the crown. It was 30 years ago that Vanessa Williams became the first black Miss America. Seven other black women and one Asian woman have won since then. And most went on to successful careers.

But whenever this happens, those pesky bigots climb out of their caves to rant and rave and spew their ignorance about why it's not fair. Ignore them.

Former Miss California: How do we teach kids diversity is beautiful?

Clearly, those divergent voices -- and I admit there are many -- failed even the most basic fourth-grade geography lesson and likely couldn't even find India on a map, which is why they mistakenly think you are Arab. Perhaps they have you confused with Rima Fakih, a Lebanese immigrant from Dearborn, Michigan, who in 2010 was the first Arab-American to win the Miss USA pageant. Must be hard keeping up with a changing world when you've spent so much time trying to ignore and reject all those people who look different from you.

Miss Kansas tatted and expert shot
Miss Kansas shows off her ink
Miss USA contestant has painful response

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 3.2 million people of Asian Indian descent living in the United States. Their median income for 2010 was $90,711. In fact, Indians surpassed Filipinos as the nation's second-largest Asian population, after Chinese, the data show.

Still, some people will never accept that it is families like yours that are helping to make America a stronger nation. Don't let them distract you on your journey. Sounds like you're on the right track:

"I'm so happy this organization has embraced diversity," you said, according to The Associated Press. "I'm thankful there are children watching at home who can finally relate to a new Miss America." Asked about the negativity, you said, "I have to rise above that. I always viewed myself as first and foremost American."

Use those haters to inspire you reach your dream to become a cardiologist, Ms. Davuluri. Reject voices that would try to define and limit you. Reject the magazine covers and fashion gurus, who may understand how to design and sell a pretty dress but have no clue about what defines a woman's beauty, as evidenced by the consistent and blatant lack of diversity on the runways during Fashion Weeks both here and abroad.

Reject the critics -- men and women -- who bash women like television personality Julie Chen for getting plastic surgery after being told by her bosses nearly 20 years ago that her Asian eyes would hurt her career. Chen made her choice back then, and brava for her for starting a public debate now about Asian beauty standards.

Today, Chen looks wonderful -- hard to tell from a 20-year-old photo if she had grown to be a natural beauty with her original face. But I, for one, want to live in a world where grown women have the right to decide what is best our careers and our bodies.

Was it an awful message to give women in the workplace? Yes. But it's no different from the countless occasions throughout my career that I've witnessed women being told that they are too fat, too black or too Latina to succeed. In my first television job, the news director told me that I should study Diane Sawyer's look and voice in order to be better at my job -- like I was ever going to look like Diane. Thank goodness Oprah came along.

Media is a tough career where regardless of your talent, looks really are still everything -- especially for us women. And to be fair, I've known more than a few men who've gone under the knife or tried extreme diets just to keep their faces in front of the camera.

But to succeed, we must deal with it; work to improve the environment for the women behind us, and move on with our lives.

There's room on the stage for all types of beauty.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roxanne Jones.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT